Do you live on an island that’s easily identified and visibly marked on most modern day maps and atlases? If so, consider yourself blessed.

Living on St.Thomas, a tiny member of the United States Virgin Islands, I have found this to be a problematic matter in my life. Back when I first ventured this far away from my home state of Baltimore, Maryland, I myself had no real knowledge that the United States owned any other islands except for Hawaii. Of course, since then, my 3 1/2 decades on St.Thomas have proven to be the best lessons in history, geography, and social studies, far superior to anything I ever received in any classroom. Prior to coming here, as late as the 1970s when I actually studied geography in college, most of the maps in my textbooks still had this territory marked (if at all) as the Danish West Indies.

imagine my surprise, upon arriving here as a tourist in 1983, to learn that Denmark sold all of the islands of St.Thomas, St.Croix , St. John, and Water and Hassel Islands to the US way back in 1917. At least the modern atlases attempted to give us a tiny indications. We were given a black dot. Actually, three large pencil points out at sea with the title typed as minute as can be.

So, needless to say, my family and friends, hearing about places like Bermuda, the Bahamas, Hispaniola, Cuba, Antigua, and other much larger and more popular islands, just assumed that when I visited an island, it would certainly be one of those familiar places. During my frequent visits to St.Thomas, in preparation of relocating here, my friends and even family members would insist upon calling me “Bahama Mama,” “Jamaican Queen,” “Reggae Girl,” and the like. And it got even worse after I moved here.

Whenever I returned to my home state to visit, Mom would put me on the phone to speak to anyone and everyone, remarking, “My daughter been down there with island folks and came home speaking like a Jamaican.” I was most definitely not speaking like a Jamaican. Now, don’t get me wrong – I wish I could get the so-called Jamaican sound and dialect right. I love it. But if there was any accented twinge to my voice, it was St. Thomian coming through, not Jamaican.

Then there was the cruise problem. Every time any of my relatives took a Caribbean cruise, they would send me crazy messages like, “Hey, JoAnne! I’m here on your island. Come meet me at the dock!” Then, I’d find out later that they were upset because they spent their tour time looking for me all over Bermuda. Or, “Hey Cuz, I’m in a cab and the driver can’t find his way to your road. We been here all morning, what’s your address again?” only to find out they were in the Bahamas. And still, “Girl, I am having a ball at you all’s Ocho Rios! Come meet us at the pool bar.” To which I’d have to reply, “I can’t because I’m on St.Thomas.”

I can only imagine the frustrations of many a tour guide or taxi driver as my folks try to explain how the driver must know me because I’ve lived “on your island” for more than 30 years. “You must know her because she’s performed all over this island, and she’s been teaching for as long as she’s lived here. You gotta know her, right?” Can’t you just empathize with the folks in nightclubs, restaurants, and other island establishments as my over-anxious loved ones hold up my photo and keep insisting,”She lives down here in the islands! You must know her.”

Having the states so close together going up and down the east coast, making it easy to be able to drive state to state, is what I believe causes many statesiders who don’t travel to the islands very often to believe that the islands are as close together as they look on maps or atlases. My folks have feverishly hunted for me on every island their cruise took them. So, to aid them in trying to find my geographical location, I bought a few dozen postcards which clearly display the Caribbean islands all the way to Trinidad &Tobago (Oh, yes! They looked for me there too!) I took a pen and circled the US Virgin Islands and put an X on St.Thomas.

 

St. Thomas isn’t even typed on this map. Sigh.

 

It appeared to solve the problem for many decades. My relatives and former coworkers knew to call me as their tour group was about to dock upon one of St.Thomas’ two harbors. All is right with the world!

Well… not quite…

A few months ago, my oldest nephew and his new bride were given a honeymoon in Jamaica. Surprise – you guessed it – I received this frantic message from my brother:

“JoAnne, James Jr. has been looking for you! I gave him your number so he can have you meet them at their hotel. They’re at Ocho Rios! Where do you live again?”

JoAnne a.k.a

Current Rock of Residence:

St. Thomas, USVI

Island Girl Since:

August 1984

Originally Hails From:

Baltimore, Maryland

Thirty-five years ago, this short and sassy senior citizen, having had enough of harsh, bitter cold winters, as well as the hustle and bustle of big city life in her hometown, decided at the ripe age of 32 years that she would kiss life in Baltimore goodbye and become an Island Girl. After a few visits to St.Thomas in the United States Virgin Islands, applying for work each time, this nearly emotionally burnt-out Caseworker was offered a job that would totally change her life forever.

So, on the bright sunny morning of August 23, 1984, she flew away from home and arrived on the island with nothing but four suitcases of summer clothes, another tote bag full of swimsuits, and enough money to live on until she would get paid from her brand new job. Changing professions from Caseworker to Pre-School Instructor proved to be a true blessing!

Working with the island’s children from 1984 – May, 2019 has put Mrs. Saunders in touch with hundreds of the island’s children who filled her days with true delight.

For her first few years on St.Thomas (also known as Rock City), Mrs. Saunders explored the mores and traditions of island life as a young adventurous bachelorette until July 11, 1992 when she surrendered her heart to St.Thomian Anthony H. Saunders. They are still completely inseparable to this very day. With this marriage comes a rather comical dilemma for JoAnne at times. Having taught and cared for the island’s children for the past three and a half decades, many times now Mrs. Saunders has gotten opportunities to meet back up with former students who knew her as “Ms. Matthews.” But, these students’ children only know her as Mrs. Saunders. And there have been several occasions when JoAnne has had to settle family disputes, because the children insist that their parents are mistaken when they call her by “the wrong name.”

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